Hodkinson Abstract Hercules in children’s literature

Owen Hodkinson

Hercules in children’s literature: a ‘warts and all’ model of masculinity?


This chapter examines references to Hercules and his exploits as a role-model and inspirations for young boys across the period (late nineteenth to late twentieth century) in order to establish the positive qualities perceived by the authors as worthy of emulation by the boys of their time, with changing contemporary models of masculinity being referenced explicitly or implicitly as comparanda for Hercules (e.g. modern military heroes; comic book characters).

Changes also in the kinds and degree of (implicit or explicit) didacticism in children’s literature can be traced by following the hero’s representation over this period. The chapter considers the extent to which and the ways in which children’s authors felt and tried to reconcile possible tensions between the classical myth, their various aims, and the mores of their time.

As we might expect, earlier children’s versions, even for the youngest target audiences, are generally less likely to censor the myths or to make them ‘politically correct’ than very modern ones, but evidently the need was sometimes felt at least to mitigate unheroic aspects, leading many authors to give great weight to the twelve labours myth being an almost Christian act of atonement for the murders, when the murders are not omitted.

Provisional content for The Modern Hercules (Volume 1)